For a lot of people, anime conventions serve as a safe place where certain types of self expression are welcomed and celebrated. If you’ve been to conventions, you know the amount of time you’ve spent anticipating the weekend; saving money, booking a hotel room, making travel arrangements, getting in touch with friends, and generally building up the expectations of a great time. Despite the effort it takes, some people are lucky enough to attend many conventions in a year. For others, particularly the younger crowd, it’s outside their means and control to be able to attend more than one or two, so imagine how special a single con might feel for any given attendee. You get what I’m saying; conventions unify people through enthusiasm in ways that are different from day-to-day life.
So if we’re all so excited to be at a convention, why is it that base levels of human decency aren’t always a given? There has been a history of harassment and even assault at conventions over the years. Although social media has provided an outlet for people to share their stories and spread the message that things need to change, it can just as easily be used to perpetuate the things they’re striving to end. Over this past San Diego Comic Con weekend there was an incident where a cosplayer was found bloody and unconscious on the side of a road without ID. As if this wasn’t unacceptable enough, it was the same weekend that Adrianne Curry chased down and beat up a man that was sexually harassing her friend. A little over a year ago at the 24th A-Kon, there was a group of people threatening con-goers with sexual violence over Twitter using the hashtags #gropecrew and #rapecrew as well as tweeting pictures of female cosplayers at the convention. Later in 2013 at New York Comic Con, a camera crew was sexually harassing female cosplayers. The video has since been taken down from YouTube but related articles can be found here.
Stories like these are heartbreaking for the entire community and as much mistrust as these incidents create, the force fighting back is much stronger. Groups like Geeks for CONsent are creating a presence supporting anti-harassment policies at conventions. Their website accepts submissions for personal stories in an effort to spread awareness and give a voice to victims in a safe way. A CNN article goes into detail about the goals of Geeks for CONsent and provides a video full of testimonials that they show at conventions.
Next time you’re at a convention, consider some simple tips that will help both you and everyone around you enjoy their convention to the fullest:
1. Ask for permission: Whether it’s making physical contact or simply taking a photo from afar, the most respectful way to approach a situation is by asking what the other person is comfortable with. Especially with cosplayers it’s easy to forget that they are not the character they are portraying, but an individual person with their own personality and feelings. If the person is a cosplayer, it’s safe to assume they also put a lot of effort into their costume and it might be fragile and subject to breaking from physical contact. Similarly, if you would like to take a picture it’s important to ask first. Cosplayers are generally more than happy to pose for photos if you ask, so it’s disrespectful to catch them off guard. You want a nice photo and they want to look good! If for whatever reason they decline, don’t take it personally. There are a million reasons for someone to not feel comfortable being photographed at any given moment, and in an era of social media, people have the right to avoid putting themselves in a position where their photo might be spread on the internet.
2. Don’t take things personally: This goes hand in hand with asking for permission. You couldn’t possibly know the circumstance of someone’s experience without having ever met them. You don’t know what they will respond positively or negatively to, even if you are well-intentioned. If an uncomfortable situation arises, the easiest way to diffuse is to genuinely apologize. If you don’t feel capable of handling a situation or someone is being persistent or aggressive, immediately tell convention staff. They are there to help keep your weekend safe and positive so don’t feel like it’s your responsibility to deal with someone who has disrespected you or anyone around you.
3. Look out for others: If you see someone in distress, do not simply keep it to yourself. If you prefer not to get involved directly, tell convention staff. If you misread the situation and everything is fine, no one will be upset by your considerate behavior. Everyone wants to do their best to keep everyone safe, especially if it’s within their control. If one of your friends says something or does something that is making another con attendee uncomfortable, it is your responsibility as their friend to make them aware that their behavior is inappropriate. If friends are able to keep each other in check, it will lead to a much smoother, pleasant experience.
We all make mistakes and we are all learning, but if we strive to be aware of how we interact with and affect other people, we are taking a huge step towards everyone’s goal of creating a safe environment! Stay positive and have fun!